Hong Kong will tighten COVID-19 restrictions despite a lack of local outbreaks to better align with China's policies and increase chances of quarantine-free travel between the territory and mainland, leader Carrie Lam said Tuesday.
It will step up contact tracing, such as requiring the use of its LeaveHomeSafe app in government premises to record the coming and going of visitors. It will also tighten quarantine rules to exempt only emergency workers or those in essential industries such as logistics. Currently, those exempt from quarantine include airline crew, banking and insurance executives, directors of public companies, as well as crew members on cargo and passenger ships, among others.
Hong Kong has not had a major local outbreak since the beginning of the year, with virtually no local transmission in recent months. But it is largely closed to international travel, and travelers from countries deemed high-risk such as the U.S. must serve a 21-day quarantine.
Currently, Hong Kong residents and nonresidents who arrive in the city from the mainland are not required to serve quarantine, provided they fulfill certain conditions, such as testing negative for the coronavirus prior to their arrival.
Conversely, those who travel to the mainland from Hong Kong are still required to serve 14 days of quarantine in designated hotels, followed by seven days of home quarantine.
Authorities say resuming quarantine-free travel with the mainland is the top priority, compared with reopening travel internationally.
Lam said tightening restrictions to be "more in line with mainland practices" is necessary to give Chinese authorities confidence to resume quarantine-free cross-boundary travel.
"If Hong Kong were to loosen the border controls for people arriving from overseas or adopt what other countries have done … to live with the COVID-19 virus, then the chances of resuming travel with the mainland will be reduced," she said at a weekly news conference.
She dismissed concerns that Hong Kong's restrictions will make it less attractive as an international business hub. "Hong Kong's primary advantage lies in being the gateway to the mainland of China," she said.
The mainland government has maintained a zero-tolerance policy toward the pandemic, using lockdowns, quarantines and compulsory testing to stamp out COVID-19 outbreaks quickly.
Additional reporting by The Associated Press.